Apple pays a record $25 million for ‘Coda’ film at Sundance


But Apple isn’t just any entertainment company, with its market capitalization of $2 trillion. And few films are “CODA,” a fictional story of a deaf fishing family and the hearing daughter who serves as their interpreter.

The film, a warmhearted dramedy, captivated audiences when it premiered at the virtual gathering that ended Wednesday, winning more awards than any movie in recent Sundance history. It also prompted a feverish bidding war — which concluded when Apple agreed to pay $25 million for the exclusive right to stream the movie on Apple TV Plus.

But the drama is only beginning.

The purchase of Sian Heder’s “CODA” (the title refers both to a musical subplot and the acronym Children of Deaf Adults) could be one of the most consequential moves an entertainment company makes this year. If the release catches on, it could single-handedly take Apple from content also-ran to major player; provide the next film blockbuster; reshape mainstream attitudes about the deaf; and even give America the cinematic hug it badly needs.

Experts say another scenario is possible: “CODA” might become part of a less noble tradition, that of the big Sundance sale that sinks soon after, surfacing only as a cautionary tale for not overspending at a festival.

“This could be one of the most important acquisitions in the history of Sundance,” said a film-world veteran who, like many who attended the festival, was as shocked by the size of the deal as they were passionate in keeping their feelings about it private, and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Or it could be one of its most spectacular failures.”

Apple’s release on an as-yet-undetermined date will test whether an independent film discovered at the country’s most prominent movie gathering can still ripple through the culture as titles like “Hoop Dreams” and “The Blair Witch Project” once did.

The Sundance “market,” where film distributors and sales agents hash out prices for the independently financed pictures they’ve just seen, this year unfolded over laptop screens and Zoom gallery views instead of slope-adjacent Utah condos. With traditional film distributors, the negotiations aren’t just about money but…

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